Debate: Ebooks and the future of democracy

Newsday – 2nd February 2012

Do e-books threaten democracy? Best-selling novelist (and former Time Magazine cover subject)Jonathan Franzen made waves when he declared that electronic books — like those available on readers such as the , the Nook and the iPad — don’t have the value and staying power of good old-fashioned printed paper tomes.

Novelist Philip Pullman, author of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy among other books, owns a Kindle and allows that it may signal “we’re on the cusp of a revolution as great as Gutenberg’s, but then maybe we’re not.”

“I mistrust any device,” Pullman tells Price, “whose continued usage depends on vast, mysterious and invisible infrastructure of electricity supply, computer servers, broadband connections, credit facilities and so on.”

Pullman might have added that when you buy a hardcover or paperback, it’s indisputably yours. That isn’t necessarily true of an e-book.

Recall how a few years ago, some Kindle owners woke up one morning to discover what they thought was their copy of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” had disappeared. Turns out, that particular edition had run afoul of copyright law and licensing rules. So Amazon removed the book from users’ Kindles, replacing it with another edition only after a public outcry.

Is it unreasonable for readers to wonder whether some other extraordinary circumstance might require their e-books to one day disappear as well? For those of us surrounded by the printed word, that fear never enters our minds.

Pages may yellow and eventually crumble; a book’s binding may crack and break; and, of course, paper burns. But paperbacks don’t need batteries — or licenses.

Read the full article here